Contemporary Soviet dialectical materialism is an impressive intellectual achievement. The elaboration and refinement of the early suggestions of Engels, Plekhanov, and Lenin into a systematic interpretation of nature is the most original creation of Soviet Marxism. In the hands of its most able advocates, there is no question but that dialectical materialism is a sincere and legitimate attempt to understand and explain nature. In terms of universality and degree of development, the dialectical materialist explanation of nature has no competitors among modern systems of thought. Indeed, one would have to jump centuries, to the Aristotelian scheme of a natural order or to Cartesian mechanical philosophy, to find a system based on nature that could rival dialectical materialism in the refinement of its development and the wholeness of its fabric.
The most significant function of dialectical materialism in the Soviet Union derives from the comprehensiveness of its conception and the intimacy of its connection with current scientific theory. As a system of thought it is not of immediate utilitarian value to scientists in their work -- in fact, converted into dogma it has been a serious hindrance in several cases, although it may have indirectly helped in others -- but it does have an important educational or heuristic value. Not only professional Soviet philosophers but many scholars and students in other fields as well have a concept of a unifying principle of human knowledge, the materialist assumption that lies at the base of dialectical materialism. It is not a provable principle, but then neither is it absurd. Soviet scientists